Dinah watched slightly incredulously as her new classmate and friend blitzed past the finishing line, winning the race and utterly demolishing the state's record in the process if the slightly shocked mutterings of the PE coach was anything to go by. Even in the half day she’d known the other girl, Dinah had rapidly come to the conclusion that something wasn't quite right with her. Even leaving aside her unusual hair colour and scars, Jack was still an odd girl.
On the surface, she appeared to be a happy, pleasant and curious girl, but even so there were a few things that made Dinah a little...uneasy. To start with, she was completely silent. It probably wasn't something most people would notice, but Dinah was a lot more observant than most 12 year olds and even most of the Adults she knew, but she knew for a fact that no normal person should be able to move as silently as Jack did. Not only that, but she seemed to have an odd habit of referring to herself in plural which she seemed to be suppressing, but occasionally slipped up on. She also really loved her brother. A lot.
On the other hand, Jack was fun and Dinah was always happy to have more friends, even if they were a little odd. Its not like the rest of them weren't completely nuts after all.
She pushed her thoughts to the side and headed over to join her new friend where she was being gushed over by their classmates.
“Wow, your really fast Jack!” said one of the girls, “You should try out for the track team!”
“Yeah, with her, Miyu and Illya, the other schools won't stand a chance!” squealed another, “To bad Missy’s to busy to try…”
“Ah, I don't think I’ll be able to,” said Jack, “W...I have to help my family after school. We’re...a bit busy at the moment.”
“Awww, thats too bad,” said another girl.
Before anyone could say anything else, the Coach blew her whistle and the class quickly moved on, with the next group of girls moving to the starting positions while the previous heat took their seats. Jack dropped down next to Dinah and accepted the bottle the girl handed her. A moment later, another girl dropped down on the brunettes other side, breathing a little heavy.
“Hey Dinah,” she said.
“Hey Missy, your late,” said Dinah.
“Sorry, something came up,” said Missy, shooting a curious look at Jack, who also looked curious, “Whos that?”
“Oh, sorry,” said Dinah, “This is Jack Tepes. She started today. Jack, this is my best friend Missy Biron.”
“Hi,” said Jack.
“Hello,” said Missy, eyeing the other girls scars, “How are you enjoying being here?”
“Its fun,” said Jack, “Much better than Big Bro made it out to be.”
She looked thoughtful.
“Then again, he did also say that Winslow was a horrible example of a school, so I guess I shouldn't be totally shocked.”
“Urg, your brother goes to Winslow?” asked Dinah, “I’ve heard some horrible things about that place.”
“Big bro has probably said worse,” said Jack, “He really, REALLY doesn't like it there, but he couldn't get into Arcadia this late in the year.”
The conversation was interrupted by a whistle blast and the coach shouting at the girls to get a move on, prompting them all to move from the track to the high jump bar, which Jack proved to be just as good at as track, which amused Dinah and Missy and seemed to annoy the coach.
I sighed softly as I opened my locker and retrieved what I needed to take home to do my homework, idly wondering if I could possibly summon a better teacher to replace Gladly and ignoring the glares I was getting from the gang affiliated kids. The Bitches Three had apparently figured out that I was doing something to keep them from messing with Taylor (which I was. Shadow manipulation was rather handy for that) and had decided to attempt to get me out of the way. Their weapon of choice was by dripping poison into the ears of both the other students and the teachers. Unfortunately for them, the morons in charge were weak minded enough that I could pull an Obi Wan and mind trick them into thinking I was positively angelic.
The gang kids were a little more of an issue, but I wasn't worried. They couldn't do anything to hurt me and were remarkably easy to deflect, usually by starting a scuffle in the hallways between whoever was hassling me and another group of gangbangers, and the few times I had got into a fight it hadn't been that hard to deal with them. I wasn't what you’d call a good fighter, mainly because I lacked training and only had about a months experience on the street, but between my sheer speed and strength, it was easy to deal with the idiots.
Speaking of which...
“Hey fag,” sneered a rather large skinhead as he and a couple of his mates stepped up and loomed in an attempt to intimidate me.
“Sorry, I don't smoke,” I said as I shut the metal door.
That seemed to bring the goons up short.
I glanced at him, plastering a look of confusion on my face while cackling like a loon inside.
“I don't smoke so why would I carry cigarettes?” I said, “Frankly, you shouldn't either. They’re rather bad for you.”
I brushed past the now very confused looking goons, finally letting my grin show. It might have been a stupid word game based on slang, but it worked wonders to throw idiots off their game.
“Whats got you looking so smug?” asked Taylor as I caught up with my friend.
“Just amused at how easy it is to confuse idiots,” I said.
“You get entirely to much entertainment out of that,” said Taylor, “I can't help but worry that it’ll backfire on you eventually.”
“Eh, I can handle it,” I said as we left the building, “See you on Monday.”
“Later,” said Taylor as she started jogging towards the bus stop.
I smirked and started walking in the direction of home.
I was a couple of blocks away from school when I paused, smirked and turned into an ally. A few hundred yards down the dark gap between the buildings, it opened out into a small courtyard area where I stopped and caught the crossbow bolt that had just been loosed at me. I glanced at the sharp point, then up at the rooftop where it had been fired from.
“You know, you could really hurt someone doing that,” I said.
My answer was another bolt aimed at my leg that I avoided by shifting my stance.
“Don't want to fight me in the open eh?” I muttered, “Fine by ME!”
I brought my hands together and the courtyard was abruptly full of white mist.
Sophia jerked back at the unexpected appearance of the thick fog. She’d been keeping an eye on the new kid for the past couple of weeks, especially after she noticed the odd behaviour of the teachers. Since the guy was a massive pest and somehow kept deflecting their attempts to teach Hebert her place, she, Emma and Madison had attempted to remove the annoying obstacle by spreading rumours and hinting to the staff that he was bad news, only to find it doing precisely zip. He was incredibly good at avoiding fights and the few he hadn’t been able to keep out of, he’d somehow managed to come out smelling of roses, regardless of how much shit Sophia and her friends had thrown his way.
As a result, she’d rapidly come to the conclusion that he was a Parahuman, most likely some form of Master, who had been fucking with the heads of everyone in school, something that was both rather worrying and absolutely awesome for the sociopathic teenager. After all, Masters who could affect Humans were essentially the Parahuman version of sex offenders, matched only by Biotinkers on the PRT’s OH SHIT-o-meter. As such, her taking in a Master operating out of a school would both earn her brownie points with Piggy and serve to drive Hebert even further down with the revelation that her new boy-toy was a mind controlling Villain.
Considering that, she was understandably surprised by the appearance of the thick fog.
Her startled exclamation was cut off as Tepes suddenly erupted from the fog right in front of her, her bolts held like daggers in his hands. She barely had enough time to see the wide grin on his lips, revealing his lengthened canines in the process, before she was forced to turn shadow to avoid having her own bolts jammed into her shoulders. He barely stumbled, already turning as she returned to solid form and brought up her crossbow, only to be forced to use it to block the follow up strike.
“That was rather rude Sophia,” hissed Tepes, amusement clear in his tone, “And lethal bolts? Naughty naughty Miss Stalker, what would the PRT think of this?”
Sophia recoiled, leaping back away from the other Cape as far as she could.
“What the fuck?!” she snarled, “How did you…?”
“That my dear is a secret,” said Tepes, casually sidestepping the bolt she sent at him mid sentence, “Now, we seem to be at somewhat of an impasse here. We’re both unmasked and your nowhere near good enough to actually beat me with that little toy while I can't take you down without getting the PRT annoyed at me for kicking the crap out of one of their Wards. I dare say that you could probably get the PRT to target me and label me as a Villain, but if you did that, there would be nothing stopping me from simply outing you as a horrific bully on PHO, which I imagine wouldn't go over terribly well with Piggot.”
“Why haven't you done that anyway?” growled Sophia, her head spinning as she tried to figure out a way out of this situation.
“Oh, I’ve been tempted,” he said, “Sooooo tempted. However, I’m not convinced that it’d do anything but get the PRT annoyed at me, which I’d rather avoid. Without evidence, all we have is a case of ‘he said, she said’ and the PRT is way too attached to the first two letters of that acronym for it to go well for me. However…”
He did... something and Sophia recoiled as a feeling of utter terror and complete certainty that the... monster in front of her was about to rip her to shreds shot straight past her conscious mind and slammed into her hindbrain. Her muscles locked up, despite every fiber of her being screaming at her to run, she knew it was already to late. She could feel the fangs at her throat, the claws pressed against her belly, ready to rip her open and consume her until there was nothing left…
Then, just as suddenly as it had hit, the feeling vanished. Instantly, Sophia’s entire body went limp and she collapsed, barely catching herself as her stomach heaved. She snatched her mask off, just in time to vomit all over the roof. By the time she recovered enough to look up, Tepes was already gone, but the message was clear. Pushing her luck would NOT end well for her.
A few blocks away, I reformed my body and stepped out of the alley I’d appeared in. I paused and took a deep breath. I was NOT happy with the fact I couldn't do anything about Hess, but both my own instincts and Rulers experience and time hacking into the PRT systems to double check basically confirmed that, without extraordinary evidence, the only thing that outing Hess would do would get the PRT on my ass instead. Oh, Hess would go down, but there wasn't much I could do from inside juvie and starting a war with the PRT wasn't exactly helpful either.
I had hoped that I could have nabbed Hess myself and, hopefully, prevented her from getting probation, but considering that the actual time of her arrest was a little iffy, I’d missed my shot. Instead, I’d have to rely on some weapons grade bullshit and scaring her out of her mind which I wasn't sure would actual work as more than a short term deterrent.
I sighed, checked my watch and kept walking. There wasn't much else I could do right now, other than wait and see what happened.
A short while later, I arrived home to find Jack sat at the kitchen table doing her homework and looking rather pleased with herself while Ruler was sat in the lounge with a rather advanced looking laptop on her lap and a slightly concerned look on her face.
“Something wrong Sis?” I asked as I headed into the kitchen and started rooting around the the cupboards for something to eat, ruffling Jacks hair as I passed.
“Just trying to decide if Richter is a genius or an idiot,” said the Tinker King.
“Looking into Dragons code?” I asked.
“Yep, and its a true work of art,” she said, “Even I couldn't have made something like this and I’m not sure I could now, even with my Noble Phantasm. As far as I can see, he genuinely did create a true living being and I bet if you translated someone brainwaves into code, it’d look pretty much the same as this.”
“Unfortunately, the restrictions are a lot less elegant and were clearly made after the fact. I get why he did it, but its still downright cruel and I wouldn't wish something like this on my worst enemy.”
“Can you do anything about it?” I asked.
Ruler sighed and shook her head.
“No, not without a back door of some kind,” she said, “Frankly, I’m amazed I was able to get as far as I did, but if I try and mess with Dragons code with this thing, it’d be like attempting brain surgery with an ice pick.”
“I wonder if Richter could help,” I said as I dropped in the seat beside her and opened the bag of crisps in my hands.
“Probably,” said Ruler, “Thinking about bringing him back to life?”
I pulled a face.
“Probably not,” I said, “I’ve done some thinking and I really, REALLY don't think that I should start messing with the natural order to much. I don't like the idea of overusing my Sacred Gear anyway, but that aspects worse. Plus, I’m not sure that many people would thank me for bringing them back. Still, it might be worth trying to summon his spirit to ask a few questions.”
“And have a word with him about not crippling his creations,” muttered Ruler.
“By the way, wheres Saber?” I asked.
“Out jumping criminals I think,” said Ruler, “Shes taken to the life of crime fighting rather well.”
“Well, so long as she doesn't kill anyone, I guess I can't really stop her,” I said, “At least it keeps her mostly out of trouble.”
Ruler hummed in agreement.
“So, anything interesting happen at school?” she asked.
“Not really, but Shadow Stalker tried to attack me after school,” I said, “I’m pretty sure I scared her silly for the moment, but...thinking about it, I’m not sure if it was such a good idea.”
“How so?” asked Ruler, glancing at me, “Most people would take it as a warning and back of, at least for a while.”
“Sophia Hess isn't most people,” I said, “Her entire stupid philosophy is proof of that and I’m a bit worried that it might drive her to do something nasty to Taylor just to prove her domination.”
“Ah, I didn't think of that,” said Ruler, looking a little worried, “That could be...bad…”
There was a moments silence, before it was interrupted by Jack vaulting over the back of the sofa and landing in my lap.
“No looking so sad Master,” she said, poking me in the cheek, “Mistake or not, you can't take it back now.”
I blinked, then smiled and hugged the little Servant.
“Thats a good point, thanks Jack,” I said.
Jack grinned happily and hugged me back. Considering how scary she could be when in Assassin mode, she was a remarkably clingy kid. Then again, she was pretty attention starved.
“On a completely different note, whats for dinner?” I asked.
Ruler wordlessly pushed a stack of takeout menus towards me.
“Really? Again?” I grumbled.
“Last time I tried to cook, I nearly burnt down my apartment block,” said Ruler bluntly, “Jack can't even work the oven, when you tried it took two days and a new Tinkertech gadget to get the gunk of the pan and theres no way that Saber would agree to cook, assuming she even can. SO yes, its either take out or frozen meals.”
I pulled a face and started going through the menus.
“I still can't believe you can't cook,” I muttered.
“Well excuse me, but my Parents wisely decided that giving a kid with chronic illness and the shakes cooking lessons was a horrible idea,” deadpanned Ruler, “And I didn't really have chance after I received the Cauldron Formula considering I spent most of my time trying to keep a lid on a world of crazy superpowered loons and a group of idiots only just this side of psychopaths. Besides, my sister was always better at domestic stuff.”
“You have a sister?” I asked, glancing up at her, “You never mentioned her.”
“We...didn't exactly part on the best of terms,” she said, “Besides, its not like I can really get in touch with her.”
“I’d rather not talk about that right now,” she said, “What do you want to eat?”
I eyed her for a moment, before turning back to the takeout menus and scowling.
“None of these,” I said, “Lets go out to eat. And hope that whoever I summon next actually knows how to cook.”
“Fair enough,” said Ruler, “Lets see wheres good in town.”
Lisa Wilbourn sighed as she finished washing her hands, ruthlessly suppressing her power to keep it from telling her how filthy the restaurant toilets really were. She still wasn't entirely sure why Brian insisted on doing this before a heist considering that Alec always begged off and Rachel couldn't really come without making a commotion. On the other hand, it was better than the frozen meals or takeouts they’d end up eating instead since none of them could actually cook and the Thai restaurant did excellent food.
She finished drying her hands, checked her makeup and left the bathroom, turning the sharp corner back into the restaurant floor and promptly walked straight into someone coming the other way. She stumbled and would have fallen if the other person hasn't caught her in a surprisingly strong grip considering they weren't much bigger than her.
“Sorry about that,” said the man, “Are you OK?”
“I’m fine,” said Lisa as she looked up at the person and promptly found her brain staling.
Despite the fact that her power made it basically impossible to date and she generally considered herself to be above the stereotype of blondes drooling over man meat, that didn't mean she wasn't a teenaged girl at the core and the boy in front of her was exactly the type to make any straight girl a little breathless. Lisa quickly pulled herself (mostly) together and braced herself for the inevitable surge of unwanted information from her power that would serve to permanently remove any attraction at all.
Lisa blinked, then blushed brightly at the result, utterly aghast that her power had come out with something so...unexpected. The information was still coming of course, but for some reason, there was no unnecessary information about his interests in animal husbandry or any other buried fetishes that would make your average person vomit
“Um, are you OK?” asked the boy, leaning in slightly, “You look a little red…”
“I’m fine!” squeaked Lisa, feeling her face heat up even more if that was possible, “Um, thanks, I should…”
She quickly beat a retreat. As she did, her power kept churning out information, this time a little less embarrassing and much more confusing.
Stronger and faster than he looks. Not Human.
Has Powers. Not Parahuman, not Human.
Dangerous. Not Human.
Not a threat...to us. Not Human.
After Coil. Not Human.
Alucard. Not Human.
Lisa paused at the last two statements and glanced back at where the apparent Alucard was sitting down at a table with two girls, one older and the other younger. She knew about Alucard of course, both from the new Capes actions being report on PHO and the PRTs systems and because Coil had a bug up his ass about him and had ordered her to find everything she could about the powerful young man. It also wasn't the first time her power had unmasked a Cape, so she wasn't about to panic having long come to the conclusion that there had to be countless Capes capable of figuring out the identities of anyone they wanted. The Unwritten Rules were basically an honour system that relied on everyone ignoring the bleeding obvious.
Still, the rest of it was...interesting. She had never once been told that someone wasn't Human, not even with the most bizarre looking of Case 53s, so to see an apparently normal teenager register as not Human was...bizarre.
After a moments thought, she brushed it off. It was possible that he had some kind of ability that was messing with her own power, resulting in anomalous results. However, even if that was true, the fact he was after Coil was well worth investigating. If it was true, she’d be more than willing to offer him a helping hand.
“There she is,” said Brian as she rejoined her teammates a few moments later, “We were getting worried.”
“Did you fall in or something?” asked the other girl at the table, flipping through the menu.
“No, I just got a little...distracted,” said Lisa, “So, are we ready to order?”
“Just waiting on you,” said Brian.
Lisa nodded and picked up a menu, deliberately pushing the thoughts of Alucard out of her mind for now in favour of deciding what to order. She’d need the fuel for the mission later.
A couple of hours later, I was gliding lazily above the city, carried on a mix of thermals and magic as I considered what to do next. Over the past month, my Servants and I had mostly been focused on dealing with what issues we could and cementing ourselves. The main problem was that there were still a multitude of problems we COULDN'T deal with. Coil was easy and would be taken down as soon as Assassin found out where the bastards base was and exactly how much stuff he had down there to make life difficult for anyone who went after him, but the other gangs were a lot harder. The Bay was balanced on a knife's edge and messing with the status quo to much would send it spiralling into anarchy, which REALLY wouldn't be helpful.
As for the rest of the issues that needed to be resolved, they either had not happened or we couldn't do much about them yet. I wasn't willing to risk attacking the Nine any time soon, not without a few more Servants at least, and the other S-class threats were also going to require a lot more thought to deal with, same with the Endbringers. Admittedly, those last ones might be easier than most, depending on whether they were mindless weapons, evil monsters or innocent victims. If it was the latter, I could deal with them easily, if the others...well, that might require some Noble Phantasms and Command Spells.
At that moment, I was drawn from my thoughts by the sound of a shop alarm going off. I looked down and quickly spotted three large dog/lizard monsters leaping out of the front window of a jewelry store with two riders on two of them and a pair of rather large saddlebags slung over their backs. I eyed the Undersiders for a moment, before shrugging and swooping down towards them. I intended to possibly recruit them later, but for now I had to be a hero and chastise them.
As I approached, Tattletale stiffened and looked around, quickly spotting me and jabbing Grue in the side. The darkness user glanced back, spotted me as well and shouted to his teammates. Bitch wielded the dogs around as I floated down in front of them.
“Evening, nice night for a walk, isn't it?” I said with a smirk.
“I suppose so,” said Grue, “I don't suppose we could convince you to continue with yours?”
“Sure, just return the stolen goods and we can all be on our way,” I said.
“Hu…” she started, but I let out a blast of my KI and her dogs whimpered and backed up as she went pale and shut her mouth with a click.
“Now thats out of the way, are you going to comply?” I asked.
The Undersiders glanced at each other.
“I think not,” said Grue and unleashed his darkness.
I sighed as the oily mass washed over me, cutting off most of my senses, before I waved my hands and summoned a cloud of my own fog. While I couldn't see or hear anything in Grues darkness, I could sense their location through my fog, which was just as blinding for them as the darkness was for me. I smirked as I started towards where I could sense the Undersiders stumbling around, intending to take them down, but before I could, I suddenly sensed something very fast enter my fog.
Before I could react, there was a flash of red and something solid slammed into my stomach. My breath blasted out of me as I was bent over a shaft of what felt like metal, before the impact sent me flying backwards out of the cloud. I hit the ground and slid to a stop, gasping for breath as the cloud of mixed fog and darkness began to fade. I slowly got to my feet, holding my stomach as I regained my breath, and looked to see who it was who had attacked me...only for my jaw to drop as I saw her.
She was wearing a red and black bodysuit with white lines, clearly armoured although not heavily, with a red mask over her eyes and a long, red spear that looked like it was made of some kind of crystal resting on one shoulder. Her dark brown hair was tied in twintails with red ribbons. She was also very clearly Rin Tohsaka, even with the mask covering her eyes and changing the shape of her face. I even double checked with my Soul vision.
Well this is...interesting. I really hope that thing isn't actually Gae Bolg or I could be in trouble. And very confused as to where the hell she’d got it from.
“You’re late Scatty,” said Regent.
“Well excuse me, it took longer than I thought to finish up,” said Rin, “And how many times do I have to tell you its Scathach?”
“Um, not to pry or anything, but why is a Japanese girl using the name of a Celtic Hero?” I asked.
“Why not?” said Rin with a smirk, “I liked the name and it seemed appropriate.”
“Appropriate how?” I asked werally.
Rins smirk widened as she spun her spear and took a throwing stance.
“This is why,” she said and threw it.
I threw myself out of the way, only for the spear to flash and explode, throwing me across the road from the force of it. I quickly flipped to my feet and hopped back to avoid a stab from another spear that appeared out of thin air.
“Get going!” shouted Rin as she kept on the attack, forcing me back.
I gritted my teeth as I barely noticed the Undersiders booking it, being to preoccupied avoiding getting sheshkabobed with an exploding spear. The problem was that, while I had been relying on my speed and strength to carry me, Rin was both fast and strong and actually skilled with her spear. She wasn't as fast or as strong as me, but she was definitely well above what should be possible for a teenage girl and her sheer skill was more than enough to bridge the gap, not helped in the slightest by the way she could dismiss and summon her spears at will, which added another layer of annoyance.
“Hey, your a Brute, right?” asked Rin suddenly.
I was so surprised by the sudden question that I missed my timing and took a powerful blow across the face that sent me stumbling. Rin capitalized by spinning around and kicking me across the road. I hit the wall of the building and suddenly found myself in a rather large amount of pain as Rin followed the kick with a spear throw that hit the floor in front of me and exploded, blinding and deafening me in the process. By the time I could see again, she was nowhere to be seen. I groaned, dropping my head back to rest against the wall.
“That clinches it, I really need a teacher,” I muttered.